NEW YORK — If you ask New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson why the team has gone old, he’ll tell you it’s because young NBA teams aren’t the ones winning the championships.
And the Oklahoma City Thunder’s egg-laying ceremony over the course of the last season’s five-game flameout in the NBA Finals give credence to that argument.
But when you build a team around over-the-hill veterans, you need two things.
First, is a good division of labor.
Second, is good health.
Right now, the Knicks are guaranteed neither, and for that reason, this season, they’ll have to lean heavily on Jason Kidd.
A good division of labor is one which effectively divides playing time and contribution expectations amongst the capabilities of those on the roster.
In other words, signing a 38-year old power forward (Rasheed Wallace) who hasn’t played in an NBA game since June 17, 2010, probably isn’t a good idea if you’re going to ask him to do any type of heavy lifting. And yes, I mean that figuratively and literally.
But because of the way the cards have been dealt, the Knicks may find themselves doing just that with Jason Kidd.
Personally, Kidd is one of my favorite players of all-time and is, without a doubt, not only a first ballot Hall-of-Famer, but also one of the best point guards in league history.
However, today, at 39 years old, Kidd is past his prime and clearly in the twilight of his career. For each of the past three seasons, as a member of the Dallas Mavericks, Kidd’s numbers have decreased across the board. His 2009-2010 numbers were great—in 36 minutes, he averaged 10.3 points per game, 5.6 rebound and 9.1 assists.
But last season, he played just 28 minutes per game and had season averages of 6.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 5.5 assists.
And here is the craziest stat: Of Kidd’s 273 field goal attempts, 223 of them were 3-point shots. Makes you wonder why he even bothers participating in the pre-game layup line.
Most troubling, though, is that Kidd missed 18 games last season due to a strained right calf muscle. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what Marcus Camby is currently suffering from. It’s one of those old guy injuries. The reason it’s noteworthy, though, is because Jason Kidd has been an ironman.
Over the previous 18 years of his career, Kidd has missed just 113 out of 1,428 games. That means that Kidd has played in about 92 percent of his team’s games since 1994. Amazing.
But those 18 games he missed last season? That was the most time Kidd missed since the 1996-1997 season, back when he was running with the “Triple-J Ranch” in Dallas. That was so long ago, some reading this very column at this very moment have absolutely no idea what that is (Jason, Jamal (Mashburn) and Jim (Jackson)).
Now, the reason why this is all important and relevant to the Knicks has little to do with the fact that they have Kidd. But it has everything to do with the fact that what they sorely lack on this roster is a proven second shooting guard that can effectively play with Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
Shooting guards need to be able to shoot, and at this point, neither Iman Shumpert nor Ronnie Brewer have proven that they can. Whether or not Mike Woodson elects to play Stoudemire and his new-found post-game at the center position with Anthony as the power forward doesn’t matter.
Whichever shooting guard the Knicks have on the floor with those two — whether they play 3/4 or 4/5 – will need to be able to keep defenses stretched and convert the catch-and-shoot opportunities that will result from defensive collapses.
When Tyson Chandler finds himself on the floor with both Anthony and Stoudemire, the need will be greater.
Yes, J.R. Smith and his 36.9 percent career 3-point shooting average will help, but Smith can’t play 48 minutes per game. And even if he could, would you want him to? With Mike Woodson already making it pretty clear that he plans to bring Smith of the bench, it doesn’t look like the Knicks want him to.
The point here is that Kidd, being one of the most versatile point guards to ever play the game, will need to be versatile for the Knicks. And he’ll ned to shoot better than 35 percent on 3s as he did last season.
The Knicks will need Kidd to run fast breaks when he’s playing with Stoudemire and Steve Novak, and they’ll need him to execute in a half-court set when he’s playing with Anthony and Chandler. Until Shumpert returns and proves that he’s a capable catch-and-shooter, they’ll need Kidd to be Smith’s primary relief at the shooting guard spot.
They’ll also need Kidd to assist with rebounding, as the Knicks were 19th in total rebounds last season. Yes, Kidd can do all of that. But whether or not, at this stage, he can be counted on to do all of that for 30 minutes per game remains to be seen.
And until Shumpert returns—and even once Brewer has—the Knicks will still be bound by lofty expectations for someone soon to be 40-years old.
That might not necessarily be indicative of a good division of labor.
Last season, the Knicks were plagued by injuries. And though the lockout-condensed schedule probably had something to do with it, injuries have and will always be a part of the game.
Raymond Felton is a good point guard and he’s coming into this season with a boulder on his shoulder. But he alone can’t lead the Knicks to the division title that Anthony says is their goal.
Unless the Knicks currently have the next Jeremy Lin, Shawne Williams, or Novak on their bench—and in all fairness, they may—they’ll need Kidd to wear many different hats if they’re to make all of the moving pieces that now comprise this team fit.
But from where I sit, it looks like the Knicks need one more guard that has the size to defend opposing shooting guards, yet can convert out to the 3-point line. Someone like the Orlando Magic’s Arron Afflalo (who was never attainable) would have been perfect, but free agents like Maurice Evans and Michael Redd—though Redd’s not much of a defender—could have helped.
At the end of the day, here’s the truth for the Knicks. They’re competing in what may be the NBA’s toughest division this season but might not necessarily have all of the talent necessary to compete.
Anthony’s declaration that less than 50 wins would be a failure of a season is respectable and realistic, because the Knicks have that type of talent. What they may not have is health.
And what they do not have—at least right now—is chemistry.
Sure, their 108-101 victory at Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center on Thursday night had its bright spots, but nothing that happens before November 1 in Brooklyn matters.
To this point, we still don’t know how the aging Knicks will deal with the rigors of the 82-game schedule. But what we do know, is that in order to win big in the NBA, you need health and you need a solid division of labor. Right now, with Marcus Camby already ailing, Shumpert out until who-knows-when and Brewer just getting up to speed, Kidd must be counted on to play heavy minutes for the foreseeable future.
I’m not sure that the Knicks have both components.
Without both, this season may end up being just another disappointment.
But with both? A chance at the Eastern Conference Finals is in play. The season will begin soon enough, and truth is, all things considered, in the past, Knicks fans have had to stake their hopes on players of far less caliber than Kidd.
And for what it’s worth, Kidd was born in 1973. That’s the last time the Knicks won an NBA championship. That’s gotta count for something, right?